The Toronto Dressmakers’ Strike of 1931 brings young sisters Sophie and Rose together in their fight for better working conditions, decent wages, and for their union. It’s a tough battle as distrust and resentment of immigrants is growing, with many people blaming their poverty and difficulties on these workers. Sophie and Rose are faced with unexpected — and sometimes violent — barriers, and they quickly find that a strike is more than just a march.
Barely into the strike, Rose is imprisoned after a fight in a picket line, leaving fourteen-year-old Sophie to take care of their ailing mother at night and spend her days protesting in the freezing wind. Rose’s isolation in prison weakens her resolve for change. Will they be able to continue the fight for what they once so strongly believed in?
In the midst of anti-Semitism and the Great Depression, Sophie, Rose, and their union come together to try to make a lasting change.
The garment workers’ struggle for better wages and employment conditions is vividly portrayed in a story of two Jewish sisters living and working in Toronto during the Depression.
Sophie and Rose toil long, brutal hours in a garment factory in order to support themselves and their ill, widowed mother. When union organizers from the United States encourage a dressmaker’s strike, at first the girls think that marching with the others will be bold and courageous. But when Rose is arrested and imprisoned for disorderly conduct, 14-year-old Sophie is left to care for their mother while continuing to support the strike. Intense, dramatic descriptions bring out the hardships of sweatshop life in the early 1930s, making plain the motivations for the efforts of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union. A realistic clash of cultures is seen in the undertones of anti-Semitism that correspond to Jewish distrust of gentiles. In addition, vague references to sexual abuse in a prison environment underscore Rose’s dramatic turnaround from a strong, feisty character to one of timid sadness. The well-developed characterization folds in some historical figures, such as Emma Goldman and Bernard Shane of the ILGWU. Yiddish phrases sprinkled throughout the text provide a distinct, Jewish-immigrant environment for this persuasive narrative with its candid message about the realities of a labor action.
A realistic look at a hard-fought fight. (author’s notes, further reading, websites)